Keep skin looking supple and glowing with our pick of the best hydrating face creams
If you’re struggling with dry, tight-feeling skin, it’s likely crying out for one of the best hydrating face creams. Packed with nutrients, antioxidants and humectants, these fabulous face creams aim to soothe, smooth and restore dry skin to its former glory.
However, skincare can often be a confusing area to navigate, especially given the breadth of different brands and products to choose from, with many claiming to be a miracle cure for skin concerns.
Luckily, we’ve tested a whole range of face creams for you, revealing our favourites for a range of skin concerns below. Not sure what you’re looking for? Have a read of our guide first to learn more about hydrating skincare, the key ingredients to look for and how such creams work to deliver that moisture boost your skin might be craving.
How to choose the best hydrating face cream for you
How can I tell if my skin is dehydrated?
If you’re really struggling to get your skin looking and feeling its best, there’s nothing better than seeing a qualified dermatologist or a GP to diagnose a root cause. However, there are various telltale signs to look out for if you think dehydration might be the cause of your skincare woes. These are:
Flaky or rough skin – One of the more obvious signs of dehydrated skin is flakiness, which is where the surface of your skin becomes dry and starts to flake off. This could present as small amounts of peeling, or areas of skin where cosmetic products such as makeup tend to cling. Oftentimes, this can be cleared using regular exfoliation to remove the top layer of dead skin cells, but if the root cause is dehydration, you’ll need to invest in some rehydrating products.
Tightness, itchiness, redness or irritation – These are far more subtle signs of skin dehydration than dry patches, but they can become uncomfortable and persistent if the root cause isn’t addressed. Again, these could be symptoms of other skin problems such as eczema or an allergic reaction, so it’s best to speak to a doctor if the effects are impacting your quality of life.
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What causes dehydrated skin?
Over-exfoliation – Exfoliation can help to remove dry, dead skin cells from the skin’s surface, but exfoliating your skin too often can damage the skin’s barrier, which is the protective layer that’s essential for maintaining healthy skin functions and retaining moisture. Daily exfoliation will often be too much for most people, so try to keep it down to once or twice a week to avoid accidental damage. Strong acne treatments and harsh soaps will often have the same effect, so avoid using these regularly if your skin is showing signs of dehydration.
Not moisturising regularly – It may sound obvious, but if you’re washing your face daily, without moisturising thereafter, you’re essentially stripping the skin of its natural oils but failing to replace them. This can leave the skin feeling tight, irritated and dehydrated. To avoid this, ensure you apply a hydrating face cream to your face after each wash.
Sun damage – It’s the classic antagonist of the skincare world, so there’s no surprise that exposure to the sun’s rays can cause your skin to become dehydrated. While hydrating face creams can help restore moisture in your skin, the only way to prevent your skin from becoming dehydrated and damaged in the future is to use an SPF of at least 30+ every day.
Hot or cold weather – As if we needed another reason to complain about the weather, extremes of temperature, hot or cold, can have a negative impact on your skin’s hydration levels. In the colder months, for example, many people’s skin becomes drier and will require a little more help to maintain hydration.
Damaged skin barrier – As mentioned, the skin barrier is essential to maintain proper skin function, and this includes retaining moisture. So, if your skin barrier becomes damaged, you’ll see the results of this in the condition of your skin. The best course of action in this scenario is to invest in a face cream featuring skin-repairing ingredients such as collagen and ceramides, to get your skin barrier in tip-top shape as soon as possible.
Lifestyle habits – Not to be a party pooper but drinking alcohol, too little water, and getting poor sleep can all have a negative impact on the health of your skin. Getting these things in check can often improve the overall appearance and hydration levels of your skin.
Which ingredients restore hydration?
It’s important to be aware that “hydrating” and “moisturising” products are not the same. Hydrating ingredients such as humectants draw water deep into the skin and keep it there – just as you’d hydrate your body by drinking a glass of water. Moisturising ingredients, on the other hand, aim to maintain the skin barrier and prevent water loss. However, despite their differences, both are necessary and work together to keep the skin feeling supple, soft and healthy. So, most face creams use a combination of hydrating and moisturising ingredients to help hydrate your skin and lock the moisture in.
In terms of specific ingredients, there’s lots of jargon in the skincare industry to get your head around, so here’s a quick breakdown of the best ingredients to help restore hydration:
- Ceramides, free fatty acids and natural moisturising factors (AKA NMFs) help to repair the skin barrier.
- Humectants, which are hydrating products that draw water into the skin. These include hyaluronic acid, glycerin and panthenol.
- Ingredients such as aloe, centella asiatica and calendula help soothe redness and irritation.
- Emollients such as lanolin, petrolatum and mineral oil are moisturisers that protect, smooth and lubricate the outer layer of the skin to prevent trans-epidermal water loss.
It’s important to note – in particular, for those who have sensitive or acne-prone skin – that some hydrating products might work super-well for some people but have the opposite effect on others. If you notice an increase in breakouts on first use of a new hydrating face cream, it could be a skin “purge”, which can happen as your skin becomes used to a new product. However, if you notice breakouts or irritation in areas that don’t normally break out then it’s best to discontinue use. Remember, in those instances your dehydrated skin persists or begins to impact your day-to-day life, speak to your doctor.
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How we test hydrating face creams
The first thing we examine when testing any hydrating face cream is the ingredients list, looking out for any humectants to draw water into the skin, and emollients to lock in that moisture. Face creams often contain other active ingredients like niacinamide or vitamin C, which can have additional skincare benefits. These may not be suitable for all skin types, especially if you’re just after a no-fuss hydrating cream, so we’ve made sure to flag these up in the key details section under every review. Some face creams also contain potential irritants for super sensitive skin, like fragrance, so we’ve noted those too.
Of course, a large part of our testing is seeing how the formula feels on the skin. We all have different preferences in terms of the thickness of cream we use, but the best hydrating face creams will feel instantly hydrating while helping to support the skin barrier. They’ll also provide an emollient layer on the skin to prevent transepidermal water loss, AKA the arch-nemesis of skin hydration. What we’re really looking for is an instant hydration boost that lasts throughout the day or a night cream that restores the skin’s hydration overnight so that you wake up with supple, refreshed skin. During our wear tests, we also monitor the skin to see if it becomes dry or excessively oily.
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The best hydrating face creams to buy in 2023
1. Aveeno Calm+Restore Oat Gel Moisturiser: Best for sensitive skin
Price: £12 for 50ml | Buy now from Boots
Most of the time, when it comes to skincare, keeping things simple is the best way forward – especially with sensitive skin that’s suffered a reaction. And in these circumstances, Aveeno’s face cream works a treat. Its simple, nourishing gel formula is fragrance-free and goes easy on the actives, which makes it super-gentle on the skin.
Known for its hydrating properties, glycerin is one of the main ingredients here, working to restore the skin barrier by keeping the lipids between skin cells healthy. It sits alongside antioxidant vitamin E and soothing oat flour. The formula is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, meaning that it won’t clog pores and is very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.
A little goes a long way with this moisturiser, with its lightweight gel consistency melting into the skin in seconds. The affordable price is also a huge selling point, with one 50ml pot likely to see you through a few months of twice-daily use.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: Yes; Vegan: No; Cruelty-free: No; Key ingredients: Glycerin, oat flour, oat extract, vitamin E
2. UpCircle Face Moisturiser with Vitamin E: Best for acne-prone skin
Price: £21 for 60ml | Buy now from UpCircle
This super-hydrating face cream from all-natural brand UpCircle uses antioxidant vitamin E and cocoa butter to moisturise and protect the skin from free radicals, which break down collagen in the skin. It also includes aloe vera, which is a great humectant, moisturiser and anti-inflammatory ingredient – and while these are great properties in any hydrating moisturiser, it’s their combination with salicylic acid that make this a fantastic cream for acne-prone skin.
Salicylic acid is widely known for being a highly effective acne-busting ingredient that exfoliates surface skin and deep into pores without drying out skin. It’s also an anti-inflammatory that soothes acne and rosacea.
The cream itself has a thick texture, which feels nourishing and super-hydrating on the skin while still absorbing quickly. It’s suitable for use day and night, with skin feeling re-hydrated and smooth from the first use. Just be wary that this formula is slightly perfumed, which means it could be slightly irritating to very sensitive skin.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Cocoa butter, vitamin E, aloe vera, argan powder, salicylic acid, glycerin
3. Palmer’s Coconut Water Facial Moisturizer: Best budget hydrating face cream
Price: £7.49 for 50ml | Buy now from Sephora
Specifically formulated for dry skin, Palmer’s Coconut Water Facial Moisturizer is a brilliant, affordable hydrating face cream. When applied to the skin, the product delivers an instant soothing feeling, melting into skin effortlessly. A little goes a long way, so the 50ml will last a good few months, plus it’s vegan-friendly, non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, making it a great budget option for most people.
Coconut water and hyaluronic acid work together to deliver a noticeable hit of hydration to skin that lasts throughout the day. Working alongside are a combination of natural emollients such as macadamia nut oil and jojoba seed oil to keep the skin soft and supple.
Note that while much of this product’s scent can be attributed to the coconut oil, the formula does contain perfume. So if your skin is particularly sensitive to fragrance, you might want to look elsewhere.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: No; Key ingredients: Glycerin, sodium hyaluronate, coconut water, vitamin E
4. Dr Organic Organic Guava Replenishing Gel Moisturiser: Best brightening hydrating face cream
Price: £11 for 50ml | Buy now from Holland and Barrett
Dr Organic specialises in bringing organic products to the masses, delivering them at affordable prices but without compromising on quality. This gel moisturiser from the brand’s guava range uses advanced vitamin C to brighten skin by boosting the skin’s collagen production, which will help fade hyperpigmentation and dark spots in the long term. With continued use, then, your skin will be glowing from the inside out.
Alongside vitamin C, you’ll find soothing aloe vera to help calm redness and irritation, while glycerin and betaine hydrate and protect the skin. Its gel consistency feels super lightweight and fresh on the skin, the latter boosted by its gorgeous fruity scent – although, again, those with super-sensitive skin should take note of the formula’s inclusion of perfume.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Yes; Key ingredients: Guava fruit extract, vitamin C, aloe vera, vitamin E, glycerin
5. Athletia Phyto Sleeping Cream: Best luxury hydrating night cream
Price: £86 for 30g | Buy now from Selfridges
Usually, it’s wise to opt for lighter creams during the day, but a heavier overnight cream during the winter can deliver an added moisture boost to help combat dry skin. This cream from Japanese brand Athletia promises to deliver concentrated deep hydration while repairing the skin barrier and helping you to sleep.
Packed with goodies such as skin-identical squalene, glycerin and cholesterol, the cream moisturises, hydrates and strengthens the skin. In addition, a combination of antioxidant natural oils, such as olive fruit, primrose, sweet almond and grape seed oil, help smooth the skin. These ultra-hydrating and moisturising ingredients come together in a rich cream that will see you wake in the morning with your tight-feeling skin replaced by a soft, supple, glowy complexion.
Sporting a thicker consistency than some creams on this list, it takes a little more time to rub into the skin. However, once absorbed, the skin feels hydrated without feeling oily or greasy. It has a more relaxing scent than other creams, including lavender, to aid relaxation alongside fresh woody notes of orange, sandalwood and cedarwood.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty-free: Not stated; Key ingredients: Glycerine, squalene, olive fruit oil, cholesterol, vitamin E
6. Pharmaceris Hyaluronic Acid in Water Cream: Best lightweight hydrating face cream
Price: £15 for 40ml | Buy now from Escentual
Heavier face creams can be a bit much for some, especially if skin is sensitive or oily in general. If that’s you, then this Hyaluronic Acid In Water Cream from Pharmaceris is an excellent option for drenching the skin in moisture without the risk of leaving skin looking greasy. Despite its lightweight, serum-like consistency, the developers claim it can increase hydration by 30% after just a single application. While we can’t test this exact claim, we can say that the product is absorbed into skin in seconds, leaving it feeling super-hydrated and replenished.
This is the result of the humectant-rich formula, which comprises high and low molecular weight hyaluronic acid to ensure that skin is nourished not only on the surface, but deep down, too. Other superstar humectants making an appearance include glycerin, hydroxyethyl urea and panthenol, which also act to soothe the skin.
While the cream has been specifically formulated for very sensitive skin, it does include perfume. However, since “parfum” is the last ingredient on the list, it’s likely to be in such small quantities that it won’t cause harm to sensitive skin types.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: Yes; Fragrance-free: No; Vegan: Not stated; Cruelty-free: Not stated; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, glycerin, hydroxyethyl urea
7. Evolve Nightly Renewal Face Cream: Best everyday hydrating night cream
Price: £32 for 60ml | Buy now from Evolve Beauty
While Athletia’s Phyto sleeping cream further up the list is beautifully formulated and effective, it’s an expensive option for everyday use. If, like most people, you’re on a tighter budget, but still want to invest in a great hydrating night cream, we’d suggest Evolve’s Nightly Renewal Face Cream.
Its thick consistency sinks into the skin surprisingly quickly, delivering an instant, soothing feel of hydration thanks to ingredients such as aloe vera, vitamin E and humectants. In addition, bidens pilosa extract helps to combat the signs of ageing – you may not have heard of this ingredient, but recent research suggests it can help target free radicals, reduce fine lines and firm the skin with similar, if not better, results to retinol. Boosting skin cell turnover, then, long-term use will see your skin appear fresher, healthier and younger.
The formula also includes antioxidant peony extract to help lighten dark spots for brighter skin overall. If you try this night cream and love it, then you may also consider Evolve’s complementary daytime moisturiser for a complete routine.
Key details – Suitable for sensitive skin: No; Fragrance free: No; Vegan: Yes; Cruelty free: Yes; Key ingredients: Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, vitamin E, aloe vera, bidens pilosa extract